Above, Jeff Babicz at the Newburgh, NY Steinberger Sound guitar factory assembly department. Jeff is holding the custom 5015 Steinberger GL2T guitar he built for Eddie Van Halen.
I was fortunate enough to meet Ned Steinberger in the summer of 1982. At the time Ned was an up-and-coming music industry innovator, and founder of the newly formed Steinberger Sound Company.
During our meeting, I showed Ned one of my first handmade acoustic guitars and I was hired right away (for $5 an hour). I was thrilled! My job description at the time was Maintenance/Assistant to Ned. For the first six months at Steinberger, my responsibilities included: changing light bulbs, sweeping floors, and helping Ned create and build jigs & fixtures for the new factory.
Left, founding members, Bob Young, Ned Steinberger, Hap Kuffner, and Stan Jay
Soon, a position opened up in the Machining Department, so I transferred into the world of production. Here I learned the "ins-and-outs" of molded carbon fiber guitar construction. In particular, my responsibilities included: de-flashing of raw bass bodies, face plates, and pivot plates after they were removed from their respective molds. Other areas of responsibility included: attaching fretboard blanks to bass necks, routing bridge levels and various drilling and routing operations. At this time the company was struggling to keep up with high sales demand, and our goal was to produce a meager 8-16 basses a week!
After about a year in Machining, I transferred to the Fret Department, as I always had an interest in the modern fret scale and its related production procedures.
Left, the now demolished Steinberger factory, once located in Newburgh NY.
I was trained in fretwork by Bruce Lauder, a longtime Brooklyn employee who was one of the few to transfer to Newburgh. Bruce later trained me in guitar fretwork, as the GL-P (pre-production) six-string guitars went underway. Since Steinberger necks were designed without truss rods, I worked closely with Ned on developing methods for calculating the deflection of carbon graphite necks as they were displaced by the cumulative effects of installed fret pressure. I soon became Head of the Fret Department and oversaw all things relating to fretting.
Left, the iconic Steinberger XL2 bass.
We were so successful in implementing our newly refined fretting procedures that a Steinberger fret-job needed almost no top leveling when done. This was a breakthrough in efficiency, and we were successful in creating some of the finest performing instruments ever produced in a production environment. During my stay in the fret department, I personally fretted over 3,500 Steinberger guitars and basses.
When I learned of a new opening at the factory, I transferred to the Final Assembly Department.
This was a highly sought-after and difficult to gain position, as it seemed everyone wanted to assemble all the finished parts and just play the guitars! I was initially trained by Barry Petrillo, starting on late model L2 basses and first run XL2 basses.
Ned was diligently working on the new GL Steinberger six-string guitar with the now "world famous" and innovative TransTrem transposing tremolo. At this time I was also on the R&D committee, offering feedback and ideas on new Steinberger models to be released, such as the: GP Series, GM Series, Double Necks, Q Bass, and the XL and GL Roland MIDI Synthesizer Series. As Head of Assembly, I was fully responsible for complete Roland Series production.
Left, Ned's groundbreaking TransTrem transposing tremolo.
Things were really exciting for the company at this time, and I was very fortunate to have worked with some now important and highly regarded music industry figures.
Andy Rossi, who now holds an executive sales and marketing position at Fender Musical Instruments, Jeff Carano, co-founder of Babicz Guitars USA, Brian Moore, founder of Brian Moore Guitars, Steve Klein, innovative luthier who produced the “Klein-berger” guitar, Stan Jay of Mandolin Bros, Frank Johns, New Product Supervisor at Gibson Guitars USA, Hap Kuffner, iconic MI pioneer and longtime EMG pickup International Sales Manager, and of course, Ned himself.
Former employees today, L-R, Frank Johns, Jeff Carano, and Jeff Babicz, with founder Ned Steinberger.
I was soon appointed the position of Production Manager. My responsibilities included: Quality Control, Units Produced, and Units Shipped. Though my hands-on, day-to-day instrument building was not as active with this new role, I always jumped in when a rock star came calling. I was fortunate enough to have built Steinbergers for many iconic musicians of this era, such as, Eddie Van Halen, Allan Holdsworth, Mark Knopfler, Andy Summers, David Gilmour, Roger Glover, Buck Dharma, Elliott Easton, Mike Rutherford, Vito Bratta, Geddy Lee, and Steve Howe.
Left, David Gilmour with his Steinberger GMT six-string I built for him around 1987.
In 1987, Gibson Guitar purchased Steinberger Sound and I was promoted to the position of Plant Manager. For the next four years I worked directly for Gibson’s CEO Henry Juszkiewicz.
This was a new era for the company, as our new mission was to grow, and to innovate. As challenges of the new position arose, I quickly learned how to operate a small factory of about 40 employees. Purchasing, AP/AR, Production flow, Security, Personnel, were all new to me, but I learned on the spot from one of the industry’s best - Henry J. During this period, the company was producing over 25 high quality, high performance guitars and basses per week.
Though I had many personal accomplishments working with Ned at Steinberger Sound, true recognition goes to the entire original Steinberger cast and crew (left). They were some of the best innovators and craftspeople to ever produce such a quality instrument, which, to this day, is still highly sought-after by collectors and pro musicians alike.
Above, Jeff's workbench where he restored Eddie Van Halen's custom 5150 GL2T Steinberger...30 years after he originally built it!
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